A Scenic Tour of Southwestern Colorado
Visitors to Southwestern Colorado fill their lungs with the refreshing mountain air--and their cameras' memory cards with tons of scenic photos.
Day 1: Grand Junction to Rico
"It looks just like a museum diorama," I say, pointing at the grasslands we pass while heading south on Highway 50. Sitting in the passenger seat with my finger in front of her nose is Lisa; we've been friends since high school, so she's accustomed to my odd observations. "All that's missing are the little men on horses," she says, playing along.
Born and bred New Englanders, Lisa and I both have somewhat romanticized views of the Rockies. Our arrival in Telluride, with its postcard-perfect brick and wooden storefronts framed by the San Juan Mountains, only reinforces our assumption that we're in God's country. Nothing's perfect, however: It's impossible to find a parking spot, so we drive partway up the ski mountain and leave the car in a garage. As dusk approaches, we take the free Telluride gondola on a peaceful, 13-minute descent back into town, which now glows with streetlights.
The wooden walls inside Smuggler's Brewpub are tattooed with crayon and marker scribbling, beer steins line shelves above our heads, and conversations compete with the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young playing in the background. The combination of hefty burgers and homemade beer hits the spot.
Stepping into the Last Dollar Saloon, we're convinced Telluride hasn't betrayed its scruffy ski-bum roots, even if Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes do own property in the area. Poorly lit, with a smell of stale beer and an eclectic decor of neon signs and chandeliers, the Buck, as locals call it, is the kind of place where people know the bartender--and each other--by name. I look on in wonder as a woman pulls out her checkbook to settle her tab. Spotting my stare, she raises an eyebrow and says, "Honey, when you've been coming here as long as I have . . . ."
It's late June, and the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival is underway. We can hear Béla Fleck's banjo as we wander toward the giant stage set over a baseball field. A crowd of over 9,000 people sprawls on blankets. Neither Lisa nor I started the evening as a particularly big fan of the main act, Bonnie Raitt, but by the time she croons "Angel from Montgomery," we're converts.
Vacancies in Telluride during the festival are hard to come by, so Lisa drives us 30 minutes in total darkness--screeching to a halt twice for deer--to the Rico Hotel. Exhausted, we're grateful to find our room key taped to the hotel door. We wander through the lounge, where there's a deer head on the wall, rough-hewn wood beams overhead, and a huge fireplace. Our room is cute, with pink walls and rustic furniture. At that point, all we care about is the bed.
- Rico Hotel124 S. Hwy. 145, Rico, 800/365-1971, ricohotel.com, from $75
- Smuggler's Brewpub225 S. Pine St., Telluride, 970/728-0919, burger $6
- Telluride Gondola970/728-0588, visittelluride.com, free
- Telluride Bluegrass Festival800/624-2422, bluegrass.com, June 21--24, day pass $60
- Last Dollar Saloon100 E. Colorado Ave., Telluride, 970/728-4800
Day 2: Rico to Durango
Hotel guests sip coffee and eat scrambled eggs and bacon around wooden tables in the brightly painted breakfast room. The food is excellent, even if Eamonn O'Hara, the hotel's manager and chef of its acclaimed Argentine Grill, doesn't handle breakfast. Eamonn, a native of Ireland, and his wife, Linda Hackleton, an English expat, lived in Los Angeles--Eamonn worked for nine years at the Hotel Bel-Air--before moving to Colorado. "We didn't want to raise our daughter in L.A.," Linda explains, referring to 17-year-old Jorden.
We regretfully leave without sampling Eamonn's cooking, but soon enough stumble on the Silver Bean, a 1969 Airstream trailer converted into a coffee shop. A white picket fence surrounds an Astroturf patio where people sip lattes next to plastic flamingos. Inside, postcards and snapshots from the travels of "Uncle Fred" and "Aunt Betty" line the walls; owner Gigi Schwartz invented Fred and Betty as a lark. Gigi and her friend Wendy Mimiaga have been working in the tight quarters since the shop opened in 1998. "We haven't killed each other yet," says Wendy, laughing.
We drive 20 miles in the wrong direction, but it turns out that we're just 18 miles from the Four Corners Monument, so we keep going until we reach the spot where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. Sure, the marker is sort of arbitrary. We pay $3 admission and have fun in the hot desert air anyway. I snap photos of Lisa doing "the crab" on the four corners plaque, so that each limb is in a different state.